The holidays are a time of festive revelries—food, libations, gatherings with family and friends to celebrate the season and ring in the new year. For me, it's also a time that often stirs memories of the small family rituals that made it a special time when I was a kid. We're closing in on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and that got me to thinking about the heirloom creche that always was set up in a prominent pace in the living room. My mother's family had brought it over from Switzerland, and the figures were quite old and fragile. (For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, it's a model stable, with Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, various farm animals, (at left is a surviving sheep) and the Three Kings. The Kings are placed some distance from the stable, and each day from Christmas to January 6th (the day the Kings are said to have arrived at the stable bearing gifts for the newborn King) we kids were allowed to very carefully move the Kings closer and closer.
Now one year, the Baby Jesus, a tiny, delicate figurine made of ivory-colored wax, went missing from his cradle. (No one ever fessed up!) This was highly upsetting to my younger brother, who was about five at the time. I'm not sure if he feared Armageddon was imminent, but clearly he was worried that Christmas would be forever ruined if the Three Kings arrived and no newborn Prince of Peace was to be found.
We looked everywhere. No baby. Finally, in a stroke of divine inspiration, my mother (a very talented artist)w ent to the kitchen, dug up an ivory candle, retreated to her art studio, and set to work with an X-acto knife. She emerged shortly with a beautifully carved little cherub (I shall refrain from making impertinent jokes about an "Immaculate Conception") and tradition was saved! For years afterward, the setting up of the creche was a source of much laughter and merriment as the story was told and retold to countless friends.
It's the sort of thing that reminds me of how the unexpected glitches and bloopers are what families remember and cherish, much more than the perfectly ordered events. Sharing laughter over the times when things go awry and one is forced to improvise is what I feel is one of the real gifts of the holiday season.